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5. Conclusions

For many years, database systems have been regarded as a key technology for safe, secure and persistent storage of simple text and numeric data. However, there has been a steady evolution of DBMS capabilities such that many are now able to handle almost any data type, irrespective of complexity. The object-oriented approach to design and programming has had a significant impact on the form of current systems. Many of these developments, long hindered by lack of standardisation, are now formalised in the SQL:1999 standard and can be expected to become much more widely used in the future.

Whilst this evolution in DBMS capabilities has gone largely unseen by many database users, the changes in database use resulting from the growth of the World Wide Web have been much more visible, and no less profound. There is now a profusion of techniques by which Web clients can interact with remotely located databases, so much so that it has only been possible to provide a brief overview of the currently most significant examples in this article. Indeed, such is the pace of development that many of the systems discussed here can be expected to have evolved significantly by the time that this volume is published.

Interoperability between different Web-based information resources has been identified as a major current challenge. At present, most solutions are based on simple metadata schemes and domain-specific profiles. Other approaches, typically rule-based, known as ontologies are seen by some as the solution to semantic interoperability (see, for example, Guarino 1998). A key feature of ontologies lies in providing not only shared sets of terms describing the application domain, but also in defining the relationships between terms so that semantic inferences can be made about the contents of a resource.


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